I grew up in a small farming town in Utah not far from Salt Lake City. My entire family, both immediate and extended, are Mormon or were at least raised as such. In school, I can remember knowing only a handful of people that weren’t Mormon. Being Mormon was the norm, the status quo. Being raised Mormon, you are taught very strict principles and morals that govern your life. I cherish all of the lessons I was taught to this day by my incredible parents, who did an excellent job in raising their children according to their beliefs. In the Mormon church you are also taught what your life as a Mormon will entail, down to the timing and place. Everything is basically planned out for you, like a road map to happiness; and I tried my best to follow that map every day for 25 years. Unfortunately, it didn’t lead to happiness for me.
The first time I can remember realizing something was not normal was in 4th grade. All I knew was that I was different and that I could never tell ANYONE. Somehow I understood that this was going to be my lifelong shameful secret. As I grew up, I kept it deep inside, somewhere where I never had to deal with it or acknowledge its existence. I followed the Mormon life map the best I could – church every Sunday, church callings, attendance at activities, reading my scriptures, and planning for preparing myself for a mission and temple marriage. When I hit puberty, I did what was expected and started to show interest in the opposite sex. I dated girls, had girlfriends, went to school dances, and even kissed girls. I was playing the role perfectly. But I hadn’t dealt with my shameful secret yet, because I was just being a kid. I didn’t have to.
When I graduated high school, I continued on the Mormon path and went to Brigham Young University, the private Mormon university. While I was there and away from home, I began to find myself. I didn’t like what I found. I was preparing to serve a mission for the Mormon church and, being a planner, couldn’t help but think about what was to come next on my Mormon path – temple marriage. The more I thought about it, the more my shameful secret started to rear its ugly head, like a terrible festering disease that was wedging its way between me and my hopes for happiness. Through some of those dark times, I confided in a few close friends that I new wouldn’t judge me. They know who they are and I want them to know that in those darkest of times, they truly saved my life.
I found the strength in myself to commit to serving a 2 year Mormon mission, with the misguided notion that maybe if I served faithfully and with my whole heart, God would fix me. So I did just that – I served a full time mission in McAllen, Texas and I threw my whole heart and soul into my work. I may have been the most annoying missionary for my companions, hoping that if I followed every rule and guideline to the T, I would be worthy of God fixing me. After returning home from my mission, I quickly realized that this wasn’t the case, and I mourned. Reality began to set it, and it hurt. Not ready to give up on my dreams for happiness yet, I began to form a plan in my mind. I was going to find a woman that I could confide in – that I could tell me secret shame and wouldn’t hate me for it. I was going to marry that woman and she was going to be okay with it. She was going to be okay with knowing that I wasn’t attracted to her, that she could’ve been with someone who wanted her wholly, that I was making this work for the sake of religion and social pressures, but that I could never love her the way she deserved.
One summer while taking a break from BYU, I went to Arizona to work for the summer months. I was having an especially difficult time reconciling my beliefs with who/what I was, so I decided to call a close friend that I had confided my secret in prior to my mission. I asked her frankly, “If we were dating or engaged and I told you that I was gay, but that I wanted to marry you anyway, would you?” Her answer was honest, but cutting. She told me that although she would probably love me, she didn’t know if she would be able to go through with it. She talked about being worried that I might one day leave her and potentially any children involved, or that I wouldn’t ever really love her. Her words confirmed my fears – my plan wouldn’t work.
This was the beginning of my downward spiral. I continued to try and date girls, forcing and willing it with all I had to make it work, but I began to become bitter and angry. I was angry that God would make me this way, that he would curse me. I was bitter that I had to be the one to endure this. I asked the question that so many of us have asked in the face of adversity: Why me? I considered my options in my head countless times. To stay in the church, I either had to decide to be alone and live a life of celibacy, or live a lie with a wife that would never know. The more I thought about them, the bleaker my options seemed. I ran them over and over in my head, spiraling further and further into depression and self-loathing. I hated who I was, what I was, and felt powerless to change it. I talked to my bishops, I sought advice from other church leaders, but to no avail.
Finally at the lowest of the low, I saw a way out. I knew it would hurt the people I loved, but it would save them from knowing who/what I really was. The only logical escape was to take my own life. I contemplated it and mulled it over for a few months until I finally mustered up the guts to attempt it. I won’t divulge the unnecessary details, but obviously I was unsuccessful. After that terrible night, I knew that something had to change. My Mormon path to happiness was not leading to happiness, and either I was going to be successful on my next attempt, or things were going to have to change.
I stuck out my last year at BYU and after graduating and moving to Salt Lake City to attend the University of Utah, I decided to go on my own personal quest for happiness. I had dropped my bitterness and anger with God and was on an honest search for personal happiness. I stopped going to church and began to allow myself to meet people I was drawn to. I began to meet and date men – one somewhat seriously, until I finally met my now husband in October of 2011. I still vividly remember our first date – it was amazing. I had dated countless girls and attempted to make it work countless times. But now something was different; it was effortless. It was natural. He made me laugh, he made me happy, he calmed my overbearing OCD, he brought out my creative side, he revitalized my love for music, and most importantly, he rekindled my love for life. I thought to myself, “This must be what people talk about. This is what everyone is looking for.” I was blissfully happy, and it has only gotten better since. We were married on August 14th, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California and it was the best day of my life. Since then, life has only gotten better and better every day, in the deepest soul-fulfilling ways.
Why do I tell you my story? Because I want you to understand where I came from. I was once Mormon and very committed to my faith. I believed everything that you do, and once said the exact same things that you are about homosexuals and their “agenda.” I even remember once, right after I returned from my mission, saying in regards to gay marriage, “Gays can live their lives how they want, but don’t force me else to tell them it’s okay. That’s why they’re pushing this agenda, they want the world to reassure them it’s okay to live in sin!” I was once on your side of the fence.
Now that I’m on the other side of the fence, let me clear up a few things. We (the LGBT community) are not looking for approval. We’re not looking for a moral pass. We’re not trying to force you to tell us that it’s okay or that you support us. We’re not trying to force you to change your beliefs or renounce your religion. We’re not trying to make your religion accept us or start performing gay marriages for fear of losing their right to perform legal marriages, which, by the way, will never happen. We, most of us through a long and bumpy road, have found self-acceptance and are okay with who/what we are. What we DO want is our rights. We are tax-paying, law-abiding citizens of this country and state and we are entitled to the same benefits you are.
Some are angry that several laws regarding same sex marriage put in place by the popular vote of the people have been overturned by judges, and are calling it “liberals legislating from the bench.” But consider this: if a law were put in place by the popular vote of the people in the Deep South taking away the right of African Americans to vote, would it be in the right of a judge to come along and deem said law unconstitutional? The answer is YES! Because by popular vote or not, citizens cannot create laws that take away the rights of other citizens. Our rights are protected by the constitution, that’s what makes America so great.
Now let me speak for myself. I am an educated, law-abiding, tax-paying, contributing member of this society. I am also a man. And I love a man. And we are happier than we have ever been and want to have a family together. I don’t care if you think this is wrong or immoral. You are entitled to that opinion. But don’t think you are justified in withholding rights from me based on that belief. This is a question of legal human rights. If you have the right to marry another consenting adult and have that relationship protected by law, then so do I.
Having said all that, let me tell you that I love you all. All I want is to live in a world where we practice tolerance and coexist peacefully, despite our differences. Try to put yourselves in our shoes. We don’t have to agree to coexist. But we do have to respect one another.